Sean Payton put the New Orleans Saints in a ‘better’ place, but what’s next?

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METAIRIE, La. – Perhaps the biggest testimony to Sean Payton’s tenure as head coach of the New Orleans Saints is that the franchise does not feel judged now that he has decided to step down.

Not to shorten him; Of course, replacing one of the winning coaches and greatest offensive brains in NFL history will not be easy. But to say that Payton leaves the Saints in a better place than when he first arrived in 2006 would be a colossal understatement.

Not only did Payton inherit a team that had only won one playoff game in 39 years, it came from a record of 3-13 and had just been evacuated away from New Orleans for an entire season due to Hurricane Katrina. Both the franchise and the city itself faced an uncertain future.

He joked Tuesday at his press conference where he formally announced that he was stopping trying to build his first coaching staff was like the scene in the movie “Jerry Maguire” where Tom Cruise held a goldfish and shouted, “Who’s coming with me? ”

Two months later, Payton got quarterback Drew Brees to join him. And since then, the Saints have played nine playoff appearances, including the franchise’s only Super Bowl victory in 2009. Payton’s Saints teams averaged more points and more yards than any other coaching team duo in NFL history with more than five seasons combined. , according to the Elijah Sports Bureau.

And they kept winning over the last five seasons, even when they had to reinvent themselves as Brees got older and eventually retired last year. Only the Kansas City Chiefs had a better record from 2017 to 2021 than the Saints (58-23).

When asked how he wants to be remembered, Payton said: “Someone who had passion. Someone who worried a lot. It’s important to win.” And he mentioned that his late parents instilled in him the idea that one “always talks about leaving somewhere better than when one got there to begin with.”

“I think we did. And it’s not done,” said Payton, who mentioned the Saints’ staff of documented assistant coaches and management, led by general manager Mickey Loomis, as being ready to keep moving the ball. forward.

“We are not writing an obituary today.”

So who’s next?

Defensive Coordinator Dennis Allen and Offensive Coordinator Pete Carmichael Jr. are two obvious candidates if the Saints decide to try to keep as much of their current foundation together as possible.

Allen appears to be the leading challenger after going 1-0 as the Saints’ interim head coach this season with a 9-0 defensive championship in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while Payton was out with COVID-19. Allen previously served as head coach of the then Oakland Raiders from 2012 to 2014 (though he was fired less than three years into the job with a record of 8-28). And he has helped transform the Saints’ defense into the team’s strength in recent years.

Payton highlighted Allen on Tuesday, explaining that he and the Saints never discussed any kind of event where he might return after a year-long hiatus.

“In fairness to Dennis, who is a good candidate in the building, or any other coach who might be hired, there is no half in this game,” Payton said.

The Saints could also consider bringing back Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, who has become a rising candidate after previously serving as New Orleans’ secondary coach from 2016 to 2020.

Or they could go in a completely different direction – maybe take a chance on another young beginner, as they did with Payton.

“We want to look inside and out,” said Saints owner Gayle Benson, “and I think we’ll do a good job of choosing another person who will be able to lead us that way. as Sean did. “

The Saints are now a few weeks behind the curve as the ninth NFL team with a vacancy as head coach this offseason. But it should instantly become one of the more attractive openings, as New Orleans is still very much in a win-now fashion.

Do not expect a rebuild

Yes, the Saints are expected to be about $ 70 million above the salary cap to start the offseason. And yes, they should now identify both a coach and a starting quarterback, with James Winston set on becoming an unlimited free agent as he recovers from a torn ACL.

But the Saints can actually create more than $ 100 million in ceilings without cutting a single player through their typical practice of restructuring contracts.

And they still have a wealth of talent on the roster – especially in defense – which is why they also did not consider rebuilding last year after Brees retired and faced even tougher cap restrictions.

The Saints nearly reached the playoffs 9-8 this season despite a flurry of major injuries and coronavirus-related problems. They set an NFL record with 58 different starters used, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, and that did not even include star-wide receiver Michael Thomas, who missed the entire season after a setback in his recovery from ankle surgery. And knowing their aggressive history, it would not be surprising to see the Saints take a big turn on a magnificent QB trade.

Again, all that is easier said than done. But it is important to stress that Payton is not leaving because he feels this team is on the verge of an impending collapse. I have repeatedly emphasized on Tuesday that he feels the opposite.

What’s next for Payton?

Most likely a TV concert, though he on Tuesday insisted that the reports he has already participated in talks with TV networks are false.

“I think I would like to do that. I think I would be pretty good at it. … But I have not spoken to anyone from a media outlet,” Payton said. “Every time I read something that says : ‘He’s queuing for this job’, I call my agent and say: ‘Don [Yee]have you heard anything?'”

Payton also stressed that he has no plans to train elsewhere in 2022. And since he is under contract with the Saints for three more years, they would have to agree to a deal if he decided he would train another place.

Payton, however, did not rule out a return to coaching in the future and repeatedly stressed that “retirement” is not the right word for what he does. So you can definitely bet that his name will appear in the coaching cycle already next season.

More than anything else, though, Payton seemed fascinated by the idea of ​​exploring some new chapters in his life.

“I saw it as an opportunity to see my kids more, to travel more, to get in better shape,” said Payton, who also noted that he has never been going before a fight in his entire life.

“I do not know what’s next,” Payton said. “And it feels a little good.”

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